2013, année morose pour la machine-outil allemande

Selon l’Association allemande des constructeurs de machines (VDW), cette industrie a enregistré une baisse de 6% de son carnet de commandes en 2013.

In the fourth quarter of 2013, order bookings in the German machine tool industry fell by 6 per cent compared to the final quarter of 2012. Domestic orders were up by 3 per cent, while export orders were 11 per cent below the previous year’s figure. For the year 2013 as a whole, there is a minus of 6 per cent, with domestic orders down by 7 per cent, and export bookings by 6 per cent. “So this was a rather unspectacular end to the year for the German machine tool industry”, comments Dr. Wilfried Schäfer, Executive Director of the sectoral organisation VDW (German Machine Tool Builders’ Association) in Frankfurt. The year’s final quarter saw a minor setback in regard to a stable uptrend in order bookings. Nonetheless, orders in the second half of 2013 showed a definite plus. Forming technology, the guarantor of success for the development of production output last year, lost 25 per cent of its order bookings in the year’s fourth quarter. “This category is taking a short breather, and the big projects of the automotive industry, which is the main customer grouping, have been completed for the time being”, says Schäfer. In 2013 as a whole, order bookings for forming technology were down by 2 per cent. Order bookings for metal-cutting technology fell by 8 per cent. In 2014, the sector is expecting order bookings to rise again, by around 10 per cent, set to come in equal proportions from Germany and abroad.

Germany’s machine tool industry

expects its production output to rise by 4 per cent in 2014 to what will

then be around 15.1 billion euros. “This means the previous production

output record will be broken yet again”, reports Martin Kapp, Chairman of

the VDW (German Machine Tool Builders’ Association), speaking at the annual

press conference in Frankfurt am Main on 6 February 2014.

This optimism is based on growth forecasts from international economic

experts. Oxford Economics, the VDW’s forecasting partner, expects global

GDP to rise by 2.9 per cent, industrial production output by 4.6 per cent,

and finally capital investment by 4.3 per cent. International machine tool

consumption is thus also set to rise in 2014, by a predicted 5 per cent.

According to the pundits, the principal drivers will be America and Asia,

with an overproportional rise in capital investment. From Europe, too,

stimuli on a lesser scale are anticipated. Following two tough years with

declining investment, there are definite signs of a stable turnaround


For 2014, the VDW is expecting order bookings for machine tools to rise by

one-tenth, with domestic and export orders predicted to contribute equally

to this figure. “Many of the German customers are recovering their

optimism”, reports Martin Kapp. For example, the steel and electrical

engineering industries, the mechanical engineering segment, rail vehicle

manufacturers and the aviation sector are anticipating an overproportional

rise in their production output. And for this they need state-of-the-art

production technology, preferably Made in Germany.

2013’s sectoral record already exceeded

Last year, the sector had already exceeded its previous record high, with

growth of 2 per cent to 14.5 billion euros. The good result is attributable

primarily to the high order backlog of more than eight months at the

beginning of the year. “Despite shrinking order bookings, it ensures good

capacity utilisation of almost 93 per cent averaged out over the year”,

says Kapp.

In addition, increased production output is also owed to forming

technology, which contributes about 30 per cent to the overall result. By

reason of large-scale projects with its principal customer grouping, the

automotive industry, it is not so sensitive to cyclical fluctuations as

metal-cutting technology, the second major category in the machine tool

industry. The production output of forming technology thus showed a

concomitant rise of 14 per cent, whereas metal-cutting showed a slight fall

of 1 per cent.

The machine tool industry’s performance was underpinned by the domestic

market. Following two years of marked caution, domestic consumption of

machines rose by 5 per cent. Exports, by contrast, showed a decrease, down

by 4 per cent, though starting from their high point in 2012. The paramount

adverse effect came from the shrinking dynamism of the biggest export

market, China. From January to November 2013, exports to the People’s

Republic fell by 11 per cent. This was the first time following twelve

years of uninterrupted growth that deliveries had fallen.

Averaged over the year as a whole, around 71,400 women and men were

employed in the sector, corresponding to an increase of 3 per cent. The

last time the payroll total reached this order of magnitude was 20 years


German machine tool production output in the whole world continues to grow

Nowadays, many German manufacturers of machine tools are also operating

production facilities in their most important markets, so as to be close to

their customers. In 2012, according to a survey commissioned by the VDW,

production output abroad has increased by more than a fifth compared to the

preceding year, at 2.03 billion euros. Measured against the total

production output of the survey’s respondents, that is almost 31 per cent.

In the past decade, production output abroad has thus more than doubled.

“The sector is upgrading its structures so as to survive and prosper even

under the conditions being created by globalisation”, comments the VDW’s


The number of employees working in the production facilities abroad of

German vendors rose by 11 per cent to reach almost 8,500 people. The

highest payroll upsizing was recorded in China, with a rise of 40 per cent.

Germany upgrades its position on the global market

In 2013, worldwide production output of machine tools fell by 13 per cent

on a euro basis. Germany is numbered among the very few in the ranks of the

major vendor nations that have achieved actual growth. So in the global

production rankings, the sector won the silver medal, behind the world

champion China, but in front of the perennial competitor Japan.

This latter was very far from unscathed: production output in Japan itself

shrank by 35 per cent. About half of this figure is attributable to the

devaluation of the yen. What is called “Abenomics”, with which the Japanese

central bank sent the yen’s exchange rate plummeting, has so far not

significantly boosted exports of machine tools. Japanese exports likewise

fell by 35 per cent in 2013. The devaluation of the yen also accounted for

around half of this figure.

Germany, by contrast, cleaned up on the global market. With exports down by

a mere 3 per cent excluding parts and accessories, the nation regained top

position among global exports after four years. Its share of the world’s

market is 23.7 per cent.

Sector aims to save energy by self-regulation

For four years now, the German machine tool industry, in conjunction with

the European trade association CECIMO, has been endeavouring to convince

those responsible in Brussels that what is called self-regulation is a

viable approach for reducing energy consumption in production processes.

There are many years of experience to draw upon with this instrument for

questions involving machine safety.

“No one knows the requirements applying to his product as closely as the

manufacturer concerned”, is how Martin Kapp describes the preconditions.

The manufacturer, he continues, can form a soundly based judgement on how

far his technical solutions meet the market’s requirements, and respond to

the market’s needs by technically improving his product.

Within the framework of the self-regulation process, each machinery

manufacturer subjects his products to a transparent assessment system, it

is proposed. The manufacturer involved himself also initiates improvement

measures for increasing energy-efficiency, and reports them to a

higher-order independent agency. This agency checks whether the assessment

process in the companies meets the stipulations involved and what savings

have been achieved. Black sheep can in this way be effectively identified

without violating the principle of confidentiality in the competition for


“One thing is obvious: ultimately, the sector has to make its own

contribution towards achieving the European targets on climate protection,

and to this it has committed itself”, says Kapp. “We are very optimistic

that we can successfully implement this using self-regulation.”

Top-runner principle of the German federal government rejected for machine


The VDW fears some friendly-fire damage from the federal government, which

in the coalition agreement incorporated a paradigm shift in the Eco-Design

Guideline: the top-runner principle now applies instead of the

minimum-efficiency approach. This principle requires as a first step

identification of which product at a particular juncture is most efficient

in terms of resource consumption. Its values are then defined as the

minimum standard for all other products. Within a transitional period,

competing vendors have to bring their own products up to this or a higher

level, or disappear from the market. “This, it is estimated, would affect

80 % of the products”, says Kapp.

For consumer goods, the top-runner principle may be a viable approach. For

highly complex technologies and capital goods, with highly differentiated

applications, the machine tool industry rejects the idea. “Bona fide

implementation is completely impossible”, criticises the VDW’s Chairman.

“The provision in the coalition agreement shows once again that the new

government is keen on regulatory intervention, but grants little scope for

autonomous responsibility. Our fear is that in future entrepreneurial

freedom of action will be more and more restricted by increasing numbers of

regulations”, concludes Kapp.

Informations : prae_eng_ae 4Q 2013_2014-02-05



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